Lorenzo Clerkley Jr., an eighth-grader from Oklahoma, did not know he had been shot until he started urinating on himself. He was laughing, he said, having just come to.
But his legs began to shake when he tried to walk. He looked down and saw a bullet hole in his pants.
Another police officer — not the one who shot him — was waiting for him in front of the abandoned house where he had been playing with five other friends, he said. The teenagers had been playing with replica guns, they say, and someone had called the police to report a break-in with potentially armed suspects. Now, Lorenzo had been shot twice.
The story drew a few local headlines when it occurred in March, but the city appears to have moved on. Lorenzo is back in school despite the entry and exit wounds he still has to treat every day. Sgt. Kyle Holcomb, the officer who shot him, has returned to work, having been cleared criminally, the police department said, after the district attorney decided not to file charges.
But video of the shooting from Holcomb’s body camera, which Lorenzo’s lawyer released to The Washington Post as his family prepares to file a lawsuit, may raise questions about the shooting. The footage is another grim entry in the public catalogue of police shootings — a window into an incident that unraveled in fractions of a second, and one that has prompted multiple interpretations. Lorenzo’s family said they believe the video shows the shooting was unjustified, that it was part of a pattern of misconduct at the Oklahoma City Police Department. Law enforcement officials see an officer defending himself in a moment of potential danger.
At 5:37 p.m. on March 10, a 911 caller said that four people were breaking into a house in southeast Oklahoma City; at least two of them had guns, but the caller wasn’t sure if they were real, according to the Oklahoma City Police Department.
“When officers arrived at the location they heard what they thought were possible gunshots,” a statement from the department said.
Video from an officer’s body camera shows what happened next. Holcomb walked up to the house, and the sounds of shots rang out from the house.
“Viper 33,” the officer said into his radio. “I think it’s a cap gun, but they are shooting something off."
He approached the wooden fence that rings the house’s yard, moving toward one of the many holes in it, the video shows. He waited for a moment, his gun pointed through the gap in the fence. Someone materialized from the house.
“Show me your hands! Drop it!” Holcomb said, firing four shots in rapid succession. According to the video footage, no more than six hundredths of a second had passed since he had finished the command.
“Drop the gun!” he then said, before radioing in the incident. “Shots fired, shots fired. Black male with a gray hoodie had the gun."
Lorenzo’s lawyer, Dan Smolen, said the video footage was unedited.
Police released a photo of the gun they said Lorenzo had carried in his hand, saying it was a BB gun that mimicked a real handgun. Capt. Robert Mathews, the department’s spokesman, said the gun was found in the backyard, where he said Lorenzo had dropped it. In an interview with The Post, Lorenzo said he did not have a gun on or near him at the time of the shooting.
Holcomb was placed on paid leave after the shooting, as the homicide detectives began an investigation of the incident, which is routine when officers fire their service weapons, Mathews told The Post.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David W. Prater declined to file charges in the case, Mathews said.
Prater did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The department is awaiting the results of an internal investigation to see whether Holcomb complied with department policies, Mathews said.
Teens with airsoft guns
Local reports, hewing closely to what police said, described the incident as the shooting of a 14-year-old with a gun.
Lorenzo describes the story differently. He told The Post that he and some friends had planned to play basketball that day, but rain meant they had to find an indoor activity. They went to an abandoned house and brought with them some airsoft guns, which resemble firearms and shoot small projectiles, typically made from plastic. His lawyer says some of the four or five guns the kids had were BB guns, which are similar. Both are different from cap guns, toys that don’t shoot projectiles but make firing sounds and emit smoke.
Lorenzo said he had climbed out a window because the house’s back door was locked while his friend was showing him around. Holcomb was standing at the fence outside, according to the video.
“I jumped, and he just started firing his gun,” he said, referring to Holcomb.
Lorenzo had been shot twice, once in the leg and once near his hip, he and Smolen said, and he had entry and exit wounds. Smolen is in the process of doing an investigation to determine where the bullets entered and exited.
A police officer dragged Lorenzo over broken glass from the front of the house to the side, he and Smolen said.
According to the body-camera footage, Holcomb came around the house to find Lorenzo lying on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind his back. “My leg,” the teenager moaned.
Holcomb inspected his wounds, finding a bullet hole near his right hip. “You’re okay,” Holcomb said, putting a hand on his back. “You’re not gonna die.”
Maki Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an expert in police use of force, reviewed the video after it was provided to her by The Post.
“It’s a bad shooting,” she said, noting that deadly force is meant to be a last resort to be used by officers.
She acknowledged that video showed only a limited perspective of the incident and said she did not fault the officer for potentially confusing a fake gun for a real one. But she said she thought he did not give Lorenzo any time to comply.
“Watching this, I don’t see how the officer could have arrived at the conclusion that his life or someone else’s life was in danger,” she said. “He asks the teenager to drop his hands and show the gun. And then immediately he shoots. There’s no time lapse between ‘Show me the gun; drop your hands,’ and then he fires. . . . He’s already pushing the trigger.”
She also said she found it disturbing that Lorenzo was handcuffed as officers awaited emergency medical personnel to arrive. The video, which ends about 10½ minutes after the shooting, does not show any medical personnel arriving on the scene.
Lara O’Leary, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority in Oklahoma, said paramedics arrived on the scene at 5:59 p.m., seven minutes after their dispatchers received a call.
Holcomb referred The Post to his lawyer for comment.
“The police department and the district attorney conducted their use of force investigation and cleared Holcomb for duty based on his IUll cam footage, another officer’s body-cam footage, as well as report from the neighbor that reported what she saw — four individuals . . . breaking into a house, [with] weapons located and found on the scene,” Curt Dewberry, Holcomb’s lawyer, told The Post. “But beyond that I don’t have more to comment on, given the fact that family has hired private lawyers.”
Dewberry pointed out how realistic the guns that police recovered look and said the district attorney determined that Holcomb’s use of force was appropriate.
Lorenzo’s mother, Cherelle Lee, said detectives invited her to police headquarters to show her the video and gave her a copy.
“It was very unbearable to watch,” she said.
“It is well established that police officers must give citizens sufficient time to comply with commands before using deadly force,” the family said in a statement. “Here, Sergeant Holcomb did not give Lorenzo any time to comply with his commands, and did not have probable cause to believe that Lorenzo posed a threat of serious physical harm to anyone when he began shooting."
Mathews pointed to the district attorney’s determination.
“Like every officer-involved shooting — half of people are going to see one thing, other people are going to say something else,” he said.
John George, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 123, the union that represents Oklahoma City police officers, called the incident a tragedy but said he believes that Holcomb acted properly.
“I don’t think the officer had any more time,” he said. “It’s just very unfortunate, this situation — he was a juvenile, and this wasn’t a real firearm, but the officer doesn’t know that at the time.”
Other Oklahoma City police officers have been the subjects of scrutiny over the use of deadly force in recent years. In 2017, an officer fatally shot a deaf man who didn’t respond to verbal orders to drop a metal pipe. Neighbors had yelled, “He can’t hear you!” That officer was later cleared by Prater, who found he was acting in self-defense.
Prater’s office charged another officer with second-degree murder later that year for the fatal shooting of an unarmed man who had called 911 saying he wanted to kill himself, prosecutors said. Police had found the man holding a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid in one hand and a lighter in the other. The officer has yet to be tried.
A review of all of the department’s police-involved shootings between 2004 and 2013 conducted by the Oklahoman newspaper in 2014 found that none that were investigated by the homicide unit resulted in criminal charges. In a dozen of the 78 shooting incidents the newspaper examined, the internal affairs investigation found violations, but no officers were fired, demoted or given time off without pay as the result.
“The bottom line is, if the officer feels like his life is threatened or someone else’s life’s threatened, then that deadly force is a last resort, and we ask him to use it,” Police Chief Bill Citty, who retired last week, told the newspaper at the time. “A police officer is probably scrutinized for that single act more than they are anything else.”
Lorenzo was charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering along with his friends, the police told The Post on Monday night; Prater did not respond to questions about the status of the case.
Smolen said the charge was news to him and that he did not believe the family had been notified of it. Lorenzo’s criminal defense lawyer, David Bross, said the same thing, noting that he had asked the district attorney’s office multiple times but had not been received a clear answer.
After time spent in the hospital after the shooting, Lorenzo was taken back into police custody and then released, he said. He missed three weeks of school recovering from his injuries. Smolen said the teenager does not have health insurance, so his family was still figuring out how to pay the medical bills for his treatment, which included a $1,300 ambulance ride from the scene of the shooting. They hope to recoup some money to pay these expenses from the lawsuit and prevent further shootings from happening, Smolen said.
Lorenzo is back at school despite the care he has to give to his wounds every day. Each has to be cleaned with saline water and antibiotic ointment and dressed multiple times a day, and he remains on antibiotics to prevent infections.
He’s dealing with nightmares, too, he said, and finding it hard to sleep.
“I go out somewhere and try to eat somewhere, and the police try to mess with me for no reason,” he said, recounting a recurring dream.
His mother said she is worried her son will be permanently traumatized from the experience.
“We can’t focus; we’re scared to go out — family gatherings or trips or to take my son to the movies,” she said. “It startles to me to know that my son is afraid to step out in the real world.”
Lorenzo said did not feel like the officer had given him any time to react to his commands.
“He didn’t give me time to do anything,” he said. “I came out the window, jumped, heard a voice, and he just started firing.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of medical procedures Lorenzo Clerkley Jr. has had following the shooting. His lawyers said he had responded “none,” not “nine,” when asked how many surgeries he had.
Fatal force database: 323 people have been shot and killed by police in 2019
Murder with impunity: Where killings often go unsolved